04.29.10

Mark Levin's Big Lie

As the right debates whether conservatives are too insular for their own good, Conor Friedersdorf calls out influential radio host and bestselling author Mark Levin for an unprincipled smear.

In a series of essays so provocative that The New York Times covered their fallout, the ideologically unclassifiable Julian Sanchez has been arguing that "the alternative media ecosystem" built by the conservative movement has left it "untethered from reality." The success of talk radio, Fox News, and books marketed exclusively to the right could've served as a useful counterweight to a journalistic establishment that is largely made up of liberals, he writes.

Instead, it has created an all-encompassing information bubble.

Reader, would you join me in bursting it?

In the course of this debate about " epistemic closure," I've caught a bestselling conservative author and talk radio host in a lie so brazen that it threatens his reputation even among his most ardent followers, if only they can be shown the depth of his mendacity, and the implicit disrespect that he has demonstrated for them.

Lying talk radio hosts hurt us all by debasing our democracy's ongoing conversation.

I've got a plan to do just that using the tools of social media, and you're invited to take part.

Our alliance may be an opportunistic one. I am a right-leaning journalist motivated by a desire for improved political discourse, a hatred of echo chambers, and contempt for right-wing entertainers who mislead rank-and-file conservatives, most of whom are well-meaning folks earnestly seeking civic engagement. Some of you are committed liberals or independents who aren't much interested in the health of the conservative movement.

But lying talk radio hosts hurt us all by debasing our democracy's ongoing conversation. And until just a few years ago, the medium of radio would've made what I'm about to propose impossible. Who can better insulate themselves from inconvenient facts than broadcasters with a microphone in one hand, a team of screeners to vet calls, and one finger on a button that can cut the mic of anyone with a devastating rebuttal?

Happily, social media sites change everything.

Meet Mark Levin, the conservative entertainer in question. He is the bestselling author of Liberty and Tyranny, a widely syndicated talk radio host, and a social networking dynamo: As I write this article, 92,324 people are fans of The Official Mark Levin Facebook Page, and 25,873 people follow @ marklevinshow on Twitter. It isn't possible to contact these people en masse, but many of them can be contacted individually and ethically, especially those whose choose to accept direct messages from strangers through their Facebook profiles.

I submit that talk radio listeners who engage in social networking would benefit if well-meaning strangers with exquisitely polite manners alerted them to persuasive evidence that they're being misled.

I'll conclude this piece with what I regard to be indisputable evidence that Mr. Levin has misled his fans. It is but one example of his mendacity.

I've requested that it appear alone on page two of this article, so that it can be linked directly. Written as an open letter to Mr. Levin's listeners, I invite you to read along, and if your judgment aligns with mine, to pass the link along via social media, so long as you're unfailingly polite, respectful, and aware that choosing your recipient at random from among Mr. Levin's followers and those who like or comment on his posts and notes will help ensure that no single individual (the first person listed, for example) is inundated.

Okay, here goes.

Dear Mark Levin Listener,

Thank you for being open-minded enough to read this note. It includes a lot of links so that you can check every assertion that I make, and verify for yourself what I am saying. Respectfully, I think that Mark Levin mistreats audience members like you by misleading them —and I am here to offer proof. What follows is a particularly galling example of Mr. Levin willfully disseminating untrue information.

In recent posts on Facebook and Twitter, Mr. Levin wrote, "I had to Smack Down a Global Warming Zealot on Earth Day." More than 1,000 of the talk radio host's Facebook followers noted that they "like" that post.

Who is the man that Mr. Levin calls a "global warming zealot"? He is Jim Manzi, a name that is probably unfamiliar to you, and unknown to most of Mr. Levin's listeners. As it happens, however, I follow Mr. Manzi's career quite closely, so I can confirm that he is on the board of trustees at National Review, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, and one of the most prolific opponents of the Obama Administration's climate change agenda.

Consider a representative sample of Mr. Manzi's articles on global warming:

-- "Dear Senator: Why You Should Vote Against Cap and Trade," The Washington Examiner.

-- "Dunce Cap and Trade," National Review.

-- "Neither Taxing Nor Rationing CO2 Survives Cost Vs. Benefit Analysis," Investors Business Daily.

Asked to tackle the subject in The Weekly Standard, Mr. Manzi wrote, "We should be very cautious about implementing government programs that require us to slow economic growth and technological development in the near-term in return for the promise of avoiding inherently uncertain costs that are projected to appear only in the long-term. Such policies conceal hubris in a cloak of false humility."

In an essay for the libertarian Cato Institute, titled " Keeping Our Cool: What To Do About Global Warming," Mr. Manzi concludes, "A massive carbon tax, a cap-and-trade rationing system, and the attempt to use the government to control the evolution of the energy sector of the economy are all billed as prudent reactions to this risk, but each is the opposite: an impractical, panicky reaction unworthy of a serious government."

Calling Jim Manzi a "global warming zealot" isn't just mistaken or questionable, it is laughably false and easily disproved, as you can see for yourself. So why did Mr. Levin mislead his audience? Why did he deliberately misrepresent Mr. Manzi?

He was angry that Mr. Manzi criticized his book.

This is but one example of Mr. Levin's mendacity. I knew how dishonest it was only because I write on the same group blog where Mr. Manzi occasionally posts—as a result, I've become very familiar with Mr. Manzi's writing on global warming. Probably you've all had that experience where you see something in the media that you happen to know a lot about, and are shocked by the degree of inaccuracy.

That's been my experience of Mark Levin, who has also attacked me personally for pointing out as much, and for noting that he shouldn't have told a female caller, "I don't know why your husband doesn't put a gun to his temple."

If you're inclined to trust Mr. Levin's word, you ought to be warned that a wiser course is to verify his assertions for yourself–inside the bubble he has created, you're liable to be misled.

Best,
Conor Friedersdorf

Conor Friedersdorf blogs at True/Slant and The American Scene. Follow him on Twitter at Conor64.